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Comparison of the Factor Structure of the Patient Health Questionnaire for somatic symptoms (PHQ-15) in Germany, the Netherlands, and China: A Transcultural Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) Study

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  • R. Leonhart
  • Lars de Vroege
  • Rainer Schaefert
  • Sandra Nolte
  • Felix H Fischer
  • K. Fritzsche
  • C.M. van der Feltz-Cornelis
  • Lan Zhang
  • Yang Liu
  • Zaiquan Dong


Publication details

JournalFrontiers in Psychology
DateAccepted/In press - 17 May 2018
DatePublished (current) - 26 Jun 2018
Number of pages13
Original languageEnglish


BackgroundPersistent somatic symptoms are associated with psychological distress, impaired function, and medical help-seeking behavior. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)-15 is used as a screening instrument for somatization and as a monitoring instrument for somatic symptom severity. A bifactorial model has been described, with one general factor and four orthogonal specific symptom factors. The objective of the present study was to assess and to clarify the factor structure of the PHQ-15 within and between different countries in Western Europe and China.MethodCross-sectional secondary data analysis performed in three patient data samples from two Western European countries (Germany N = 2,517, the Netherlands N = 456) and from China (N = 1,329). Confirmatory factor analyses (CFA), and structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis were performed.ResultsThe general factor is found in every sample. However, although the outcomes of the PHQ-15 estimate severity of somatic symptoms in different facets, these subscales may have different meanings in the European and Chinese setting. Replication of the factorial structure was possible in the German and Dutch datasets but not in the dataset from China. For the Chinese dataset, a bifactorial model with a different structure for the cardiopulmonary factor is suggested. The PHQ-15 could discern somatization from anxiety and depression within the three samples.ConclusionThe PHQ-15 is a valid questionnaire that can discern somatization from anxiety and depression within different cultures like Europe or China. It can be fitted toa bifactorial model for categorical data, however, the model can only be recommended for use of the general factor. Application of the orthogonal subscales in non-European samples is not corroborated by the results. The differences cannot be ascribed to differences in health care settings or by differences in concomitant depression or anxiety but instead, a cultural factor involving concepts of disease may play a role in this as they may play a role in the translation of the questionnaire. Further research is needed to explore this, and replication studies are needed regarding the factorial structure of the PHQ-15 in China.

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Leonhart, de Vroege, Zhang, Liu, Dong, Schaefert, Nolte, Fischer, Fritzsche and van der Feltz-Cornelis.

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